At the beginning of the pandemic, the Prime Minister established the national cabinet.
It was an idea that was formed with the right intent and was universally welcomed at the time. There was no question we needed a nationally driven response. The states needed a mechanism to act decisively and expeditiously, but Australians needed to see this happening within a consistent framework.
It made sense to find a way for state and federal leaders to work together. So how has the national cabinet fared?
Polling by the McKinnon Prize in Political Leadership has revealed two-thirds of Australians believe the federal and state governments have not co-operated well during the pandemic.
Areas of perceived failures of co-ordination included the vaccination rollout (76 per cent), border closures (73 per cent) and quarantine arrangements (70 per cent). These are areas in which national cabinet has either sent confusing messages or has still not reached agreement on.
Despite the difficulties of national cabinet, some progress has been made. A significant level of agreement was reached around financial support. Also, around vaccination targets, which were based on evidence, once consistency in interpreting the modelling was reached. They replaced elimination as the basis for reopening.
The evidence allowed leaders to find common ground, and we achieved a nationally agreed framework to aim for.
In the short term, there are still issues to be resolved, such as agreeing on the reopening of international borders.
Beyond that it requires much better collaboration on the issues key to the challenges of a post-Covid environment.
It is never easy to balance federal and state issues, particularly as they continue to overlap, but it’s the system we have, and we need to find a better way.
Australians want outcomes, not blame-shifting.
About Simon Crean
Simon Crean served as a member of the Labor Party in the House of Representatives from 1990 until 2013. During his time in parliament, he served as Leader of the Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition and managed a range of portfolios. Mr Crean was also President of the Australian Council of Trades Union (ACTU) from 1985 to 1990. Simon is an ambassador for The McKinnon Prize for 2021.